Preparations

Sunset from Clingman's Dome Great Smoky Mountains National Park Tennessee.
Sunset from Clingman’s Dome Great Smoky Mountains National Park Tennessee.

Though I have been thinking and dreaming for a while about a doing a thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail, I didn’t ever really think it would become a reality. Then, the topic came up again and I decided to talk it over with Bud (my husband). I was very surprised at how supportive he was of the idea. The option of him hiking with me is out due to his knee problems. One thing led to another, and he said, “Well, better to do it sooner, rather than later.” So…here I am, planning for my 2016 thru-hike! He has been incredibly encouraging.

In the last two weeks I have spent a great amount of time researching gear on the Internet. I am (of course) trying to keep costs down as much as possible. Though it is important for all hikers to keep their pack weight low, I feel like it’s imperative that I, especially, keep the weight down since I am built so small. Unfortunately, lighter gear is usually more expensive. Bud has budgeted money for my gear (based on what others have said gear will cost.) The figure I have seen estimated was around $2,000. I’m hoping to keep it much lower than that, while not sacrificing quality (or low weight) too much.

Living out in the sticks does not leave me with a lot of options to get gear, other than ordering online. For my shoes, I have decided to go with ‘trail runners’ rather than traditional hiking boots. I have ordered, and had to return THREE PAIRS of trail runners due to them being too small (mostly just not wide enough.) That has been very frustrating. So far, I have tried:

Keen Targhee II WP Hiking Shoes

Zamberlan 130 SH Crosser GTX RR Hiking Shoes

Salomon Women’s XR Mission Running Shoes

All of these are just too narrow, and even if I ordered a size up, they would STILL be too narrow and would probably slip on the heel. Since walking is all I am going to be doing on the hike, it’s important that I get a shoe that fits right. I am thinking about giving up on ordering shoes online. You can just never tell if a shoe is going to be wide enough without trying them on, unless they are sold in widths (and very few seem to be.) Postage to return things that don’t fit is too expensive. It was around $15.00 to return one pair of shoes! Sorry to sound like I am complaining, but I am in shock. I think I am going to drive to Little Rock (almost a three hour drive one way). It’s the closest place that will have a decent choice of hiking shoes, clothes and gear.

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Copper Spur 2  (Photo courtesy of rei.com)

I ordered my tent, a Big Agnes Copper Spur I. It is an ultra-light tent. I got a great deal on it on Amazon. It was so easy to set up, and was, indeed, very light! Then, the other day, I saw that REI had their Big Agnes Copper Spur 2 (a 2 person tent) for only $5 dollars more than I paid for the one-person version, and the weight was not all that much more. It will give me more room, should I want to keep my gear inside the tent. Also, if Bud wants to go with me on a pre-thru-hike trip to try it out, we can both fit in the tent. If the Copper Spur 2 turns out to be as great as I think it is, I will return the Copper Spur I.

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(Photo courtesy of Rei.com)

I have also ordered and received my backpack. It is an REI Flash Pack 58. It is an internal frame, lightweight pack. It was on sale, it was blue (my favorite color) and it had some great reviews. I also like that it has so many outside pockets. I hope it will serve me well!

I have been walking here at home as much as I possibly can. We are in the Ozark Mountains here, so there are plenty of hills to help get me into shape. I bought a pedometer which tells me how many steps I take, how many miles I travel, how many calories I am burning and how many MPH I am walking. Pretty cool. I have been doing 5-6 miles at a time, but not every day.

It is surreal to think that this time next year I will be thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. It’s all I think about lately and I’m so excited I’m about ready to bust!

~Arkansas Traveler~

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Gathering More Gear

I am still working on getting all of my gear…most of it I have ordered online.

I did make a trip to a very small outfitter in Springfield. I was able to try on shoes, and it really opened my eyes about athletic shoes. I tried on SO many shoes, and was getting really discouraged because they were all too narrow and were squeezing my toes. The lady helping me finally brought out some Merrell  Verterra Sports. I ended up getting a pair that was a size 8! (In regular shoes, I wear a 6.5.) They are very comfortable and roomy in the toe-box.

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I didn’t even ask her about different colors, though I think there are others. I was just so happy about finding a pair that fit after trying on so many that I didn’t care what color they were.

There was a Bass Pro Shop just down the road, so I decided to stop there, too. I found a pair of Red Head Trail Runners (Mt. Whitney- Size 8.5) that were comfortable and roomy. I think this is Bass Pro Shop’s store brand (not sure) but they were on sale for $50, and I bought them thinking I could just wear them for home use if they don’t turn out to be good for hiking.

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When I walk, I have been going to the end of our dirt road and back. That’s about 9.5 miles round trip with a lot of hills. I don’t do it every day. We’ve had either lots of rain or 100 degree heat indices, so I haven’t been regular, lately. I know, I know. I’ll be walking in worse conditions on the Appalachian Trail. I HAVE walked once in the rain. I just haven’t been psyched up for ‘real life’ hiking yet…haven’t even been out with my backpack yet. When I get all of my gear, I’ll load ‘er up and take ‘er out, come what may in the weather department.

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I did try out the Red Head shoes, and I had ‘hot spots’ (pre-blisters) when I got back. I was wearing my Darn Tough socks, and I want to try a nylon sock to see if that makes a difference. Haven’t tried the Merrells yet, but those are the ones I have high hopes for.

I have ordered and returned two sleeping bags. It is recommended that you get a three season bag that is warm to 20 degrees.  The first one I ordered was a Kelty Cosmic 20. What they sent was not the bag I ordered. It was a different color, and I think it was the man’s bag. When I contacted the place to return it, the guy did not have a favorable review of Kelty, and said they only make their bags with zippers on the right side (I need left, since I am right handed).

The other bag I ordered to try was the North Face Tephora. It seemed like a nice bag, but it was over 3 pounds. It was huge! I can’t imagine getting it small enough, even with a compression bag. I think it’s just too heavy, anyway, so I returned it.

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Down sleeping bags are recommended because they are light. Most of the really, REALLY light ones are $400-$500. I don’t want to spend that much. I’m considering getting a backpacking quilt. I think it might be a better solution for me. You use a sleeping pad to lay on for protection from the cold ground underneath. I’ve never used a mummy bag before. I think a mummy bag would be too clausterphobic-feeling for me. I’m a side or stomach sleeper, and Bud will tell you that I like to spread out when I sleep. When we have to stay in a hotel with a King Size bed, I love to spread out as if I’m making a snow angel for the joy of all of that room, and I also yodel waaayyy over to Bud, teasing him about the distance between us.

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I was talking to Bud about the sleeping bags, and he reminded me that I like to sleep pretty cold. I also remembered our adventure in this house before we got our wood stove and propane heater. We had some pretty darn cold temps, and I did just fine. We’ll see. I have found a backpacking quilt for $250, and I might order one.

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I’ve decided to keep the two-person Big Agnes Copper Spur. It’s a little more space for one person, room for Bud, too, in case he wants to go out with me sometime, and it’s not that much more weight than the one-person tent. I really like it. I chose the Copper Spur for many reasons. 1) It’s very light. 2) The entry is on the side, rather than the end. 3)It has a bathtub floor. 4) It’s very easy to set up.

I’m now doubting my backpack choice. I don’t think it fits the way it’s supposed to. When the hip belt is secure, the shoulder straps don’t rest on my shoulders. They just sort of hang there, suspended above my shoulders. We are thinking about going to a R.E.I. in Kansas City. It’s about 4 hours away. If I find something else I like, I can just return my backpack there, instead of having to mail it in. I can also have them help me adjust it so that it fits like it’s supposed to. I really don’t have a clue, since I have not been backpacking before.

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I have my camp stove (MRS Pocket Rocket) and I have ordered my cookware (Evernew Titanium ECA 418). It supposedly has a non-stick coating on it. I also got a really cool titanium shovel called ‘The Deuce of Spades’ for digging cat holes. It’s very light.

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The clothes…bleh. I’m dreading that part. I’ve gotten a rain jacket and rain pants (which I am doubting myself on) and I also got a down jacket on sale. That’s about it…except for sports bras and sports undies…and a pair of quick drying shorts…and a hiking skirt that I’m not sure I feel comfortable with. It’s really the winter stuff, and base layers I’m confused about. I tried on some stuff at Bass Pro Shop and it was horrible. HORRIBLE, I tell ya. I hate shopping for clothes, period.

I feel good about most of the purchases I have made so far because I have been able to find most of it on sale-some of it at a very deep discount. I have been very happy about that.

~Arkansas Traveler~

A Trip To REI

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If you haven’t done much hiking before, you wouldn’t realize what a learning curve there is when you start hiking, especially if you are preparing for an extended hike. It’s more than just ‘a long walk’. You will be on the trail for months, and everything you own will have to be carried in a backpack. You will be exposed to the elements (rain, wind, snow, cold, heat, etc.) and will be living in the woods for most of that time. Your ‘house’ will be your tent or a three-sided shelter, your food will have to be lightweight and easy to prepare, and your feet and body will bear the burden of all of that weight.

I have been researching to learn everything I can about hiking and gear. Every different piece of equipment and maker of hiking gear have ardent fans, and they are very convincing on why their chosen piece of equipment is best; however, what works for one person, may not work for others. The mantra I keep hearing is ‘hike your own hike.’

A big part of this journey (for me) is researching and making my own decisions for my own trip. I’ve never been a great decision-maker, and have most often left decisions to others. Now, I’m in a place where I am the ‘one and only’ decision maker and I’ll have to live with the consequences of my decisions.

I have ordered and returned so many things already! I keep wavering back and forth and this is after a LOT of research. Sometimes I feel like I am watching an episode of, ’48 Hours’ where I am being convinced that one person is the culprit. After the commercial break, I am convinced it is someone else who did it. Then, I go back to thinking the first person presented is IT. Thus it has been with hiking gear for me. Every argument I read for a particular product has pros and cons. It’s all a matter of choice and what will work best for me. Therein lies the problem, since I’ve not had much experience hiking.

After I received the backpack (Flash Pack 65) I ordered online, I became convinced it was too big. The shoulder straps were hovering about 1-2 inches above my shoulders. I also thought that my shoes were not giving me enough support. Bud, my husband, (who has been my biggest advocate and cheerleader through all of this) suggested that we go to REI. He was willing to make the four hour drive to get to the nearest REI to us in Kansas City.

Long story short, I got a lot of advice and help at REI, not to mention personal fitting for what I believe will be a great backpack. After my experience, I don’t see how anyone can really order their first backpack online.  It turns out that I am borderline in sizing, between a Small and Extra Small. There were three backpacks I was going to try: The Osprey Ariel 65, REI Crest Trail 65, and Flash Pack 65 (in a smaller size).

After being measured, I first tried on the Osprey Ariel in an XS, and it felt GREAT! I was almost sold on it, and then the guy helping me suggested that I try the Osprey Aura 65 AG. He did not have an XS in stock, so I tried on the Small. I also have to add here, that they had sand bags of certain weights which they stuffed in the packs so I could feel what it would be like with the weight I intended to carry in my pack. It was VERY helpful.

The Osprey Aura AG has ‘anti-gravity’ technology which makes you feel like you are carrying a lighter load, AND I COULD REALLY TELL THE DIFFERENCE. I was amazed at the difference between the Ariel and Aura. I was sold on the Aura AG 65 right then and there.

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The guy who was helping me felt that I needed an Extra Small, but since they did not have it in stock, it had to be ordered and shipped to me. When it arrived, I immediately put it on, and something felt horribly wrong. Even without weight in the pack, it was hurting my shoulders.

Bud strongly felt that we should go back to REI (another four hour trip, one-way.) He was thinking that maybe it just needed to be adjusted. Although I was reluctant to make the drive again, I was thinking the same thing. I hated to make another long drive. Add to that, we had to be back in time to lock the chickens up before dark…so we made plans for another long, quick trip.

This time, a different guy helped me, and he tried and tried to make the Extra Small work with different adjustments, but it just felt awful. He finally let me try on the Small again, and I let out a big sigh of relief. “Ahhh….this feels like the hip belt is resting where it was made to go!” I said. It was so much different! The hip belt rested around the top of my hips, and the shoulder straps were no longer cutting into the tops of my shoulders and chest. The weight of the pack was where it should have been…on my hips, rather than on my waist and my shoulders.

The Extra Small felt like some kind of mutant baby was clinging to my back like a spider. The Small felt like a tightly swaddled papoose on my back.

The moral of the story is: When looking for your first backpack, and you are inexperienced, go to a store where they can fit you for a pack and you can actually try them on! The sizes seem to vary with different models, even for the same maker.

I was very impressed with REI. All of the workers there were a veritable fount of knowledge and experience. I also tried on yet more shoes while I was there the first time. The girl who helped me was a hiker, and when she found out the weight of my pack, she suggested a more sturdy shoe. I tried on some Keen Targhee II’s (which I really liked), but then she suggested that I *just try* another shoe which supported the ankles more. I had been opposed to boots because I didn’t want a really heavy shoe. They had a fake boulder there in the shoe department which I was able to climb to see how the shoes would work on the terrain I’ll be hiking on.

I have been a little worried in the back of my mind about not having any ankle support, since I rolled my ankle last year. I’ve heard that once you roll or sprain your ankle, you are much more likely to do it again.

So…I got another pair of shoes:

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ASOLO Fission GV Hiking Shoes

These are not as light as trail runners, but they are much lighter than traditional, leather hiking boots. They give my ankles much more support, they feel like there is much more support on the bottom of my shoe. I don’t feel rough terrain as much (like walking on the gravel road here at home), they have great traction, my toes have plenty of wiggle room, my toes don’t even come close to hitting the tip of my shoes. I have hiked 6-9 miles about 5 times in them, and I don’t have any hot spots, no blisters, no rubbing, no squished toes, etc., and they aren’t even broken in yet! They are also water-proof.

REI allows returns for up to one year, no matter what the reason or condition of the item. Though these shoes are more expensive than trail runners, I’ve read that trail runners have to be replaced at least four times on a thru-hike. According to reviews, there are people who have had these ASOLO’s for 12 or more years and they still look almost new, with no tears or signs of wearing.

I’m still learning how to pack my backpack, and I’m already trying to cut my pack weight. I’ve taken one walk with the backpack with all of my stuff (minus food) and it seems really heavy to me. I made an EXCEL spreadsheet with the weight of all of my items and it was about 17 pounds. (This includes the weight of the pack which is 4 pounds, 2 ounces.) I want to get a scale to actually weigh the pack, because I’m not sure this is correct. It’s all based on weights listed on websites, not actual measured weight.

On that first walk with my pack, I had about 4.5 pounds of water (2 Quart Bottles.) I’m figuring that food for 5-6 days will add another 10 pounds and I think I will be miserable with that amount of weight, based on my first walk with the pack at 21.5 pounds (and I’m assuming my weight on paper was correct.)

We have some ‘hills’ around here that are pretty respectable as hikes go. They aren’t easy. I went about 5 miles with the loaded pack. I came back with a beet red face, and Bud looked worried and told me to sit in front of a fan and ‘recover’. LOL. When I add my food to the backpack -right now- the estimate of my loaded pack will be 31.5 pounds. I’m 5’2″and I don’t know if this amount of weight is typical for someone my height to carry. I think I weigh about 120 pounds, but I might be a more.

I’m looking to try to cut some of the pack weight. As I think about hiking 15-20 miles a day, I can’t imagine carrying that much weight (the 21.5 pounds of my pack is without food.) It was do-able on even ground, but climbing the hills was tough. When my pack is up to 31.5 pounds…I’m just not sure how it will be.

Maybe you get use to carrying that much weight as you get stronger and hike more. I don’t know. If anyone has any advice or suggestions, I’m open to hear it!

I have been trying to connect with a hiking club in this area in hope that I can do some ‘shake-down’ hikes and get some practical, hands-on advice. My first ‘outing’ will be camping either in front of our house, or if I’m really brave, somewhere on our land. We have about 30 acres deep in the heart of the Ozarks. It’s wild enough that we have seen deer, Elk, wild turkeys and pigs. Some of our neighbors have seen a black bear. I have never camped alone, so camping in our front yard will be a big first step for me. I want to try out all of my gear (set up my tent, cook some food, pack everything up, etc.) before I take a real over-night hike.

These Shoes Were Made For Walking…

 

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Merrell Moab Ventilators

I have finally found some shoes that fit and are comfortable!!! At long last, after much trial and error (thank you, REI, for your liberal return policy)…

I -HAVE- SHOES!!!!!

“What’s so hard about finding shoes?” you might ask. I can’t remember ever having trouble finding a pair of shoes that fit and were comfortable…but then, up until recently, I don’t think I’ve ever walked 6-8 miles daily, either. Often, shoes will feel great in the store and walking for a short distance. It’s only after you go the distance with a shoe, that the character and nuances of the shoe can be ascertained. Wow. I kinda sound like I know what I’m talking about, don’t I? One thing I’m learning is that if you do anything day in and day out, you quickly become an expert on that subject, at least as it pertains to you.

In this quest for shoes, I’ve learned that everyone’s feet are different, and it seems that different shoe manufacturer’s cater to certain kinds of feet. My feet are wide at the ball of the foot, and narrow at the heel. I’ll spare you the details of the shoes that I’ve tried, and just give you my review. (If you want to know the details, ask, and ye shall receive!)

MY REVIEW:

The Merrell Moab Ventilator is comfortable right out the box-exactly what I wanted. I’ve had no blisters or hots pots, and I’ve had no need to wear double socks or sock liners, which I really wanted to avoid. I wanted a roomy toe-box, so duplicate socks would just nullify the extra room, and make me feel claustrophobic.

This is a very light shoe. In trying shoes, it was amazing how much difference the weight of the shoe made in the difficulty of the hike. Some of them made me feel as if I was dragging stones on my feet, and wore me out! This shoe feels like a trail runner shoe.

The sole of the shoe is sturdy, and I no longer feel the gravel under my feet. The sole also has great traction. It has adequate support for my high arches on the inside, in fact, it has something called, “Q-Form Alignment Technology.” Basically, it compensates for the alignment of a woman’s body, which causes them to tend to roll their feet inward when they walk, and can eventually cause knee problems. The ‘Q-Form’ support prevents that from happening by forcing the foot to keep more to the outside of the shoe. I’ll be honest–at first I didn’t like it. I was VERY aware of it on the first day. It was less noticeable on the second day, but by the third day, I didn’t notice it at all!

This shoe has plenty of ventilation (hence the name) and my feet have not felt stuffy and hot, yet even on the coldest days, my feet have not gotten cold. I chose not to get the waterproof version. I’ve read numerous warnings that you should not get waterproof shoes for a thru-hike. Apparently the waterproofing is good when it works, but if you should happen to get the waterproof shoe saturated, it takes forever to dry out.

I also have to add that this is the first hiking shoe I’ve had, that I actually like the way it looks! Isn’t it a handsome, sporty-looking shoe?

I can’t tell you what a weight has been lifted off my shoulders, as the time quickly ticks away, that I can check this bit of important gear off of my list! One less thing to worry about. *sigh* I hope this honeymoon period doesn’t wear off!

Thank you, Red Panda, my wide-footed friend, for taking the time to give your opinion, and leading me to these awesome shoes!

Buffalo River Trail – “Shake Down Hike” – Day 2

IMG_1633I woke up around daybreak. It was COLD! The sun was just beginning to wake up, spreading a dim glow through the canopy of my tent. I didn’t want to get out of my sleeping quilt. I thought about waiting for the sun to come up over the rise, but with these hills, I didn’t know how long that would be. I knew Bud was concerned, not having received a call from me, and I really wanted to get to a place as quickly as I could to call him.

I pulled my hiking clothes from the foot of my tent, and put them in the quilt with me to warm them up. I dressed underneath the quilt. I started packing up my backpack, which was in the tent with me. I stuffed my quilt in first, then my sleeping bag liner. I deflated my sleeping pad and rolled it up, and put it and my other things into my backpack (Osprey Aura 65).

When I got out of my tent, my hands were stinging. I had thought my gloves were in my pack, but apparently, I did not put them back into my backpack the last time I hiked with them at home. I could have used socks, but I didn’t want to go to the trouble of pulling them out of my pack. My hands were stinging as I took down my tent, and this was my first clue that temps had gotten quite a bit lower than I had anticipated. Stinging hands are the marker I use to describe to Bud how cold it is when I let the chickens out in the mornings.

I opted not to have coffee or breakfast. I was eager to get on the trail and start walking so I could warm up. You can’t wear anything with ‘down’ in it to hike in. If it gets wet with sweat, it won’t keep you warm. Having light clothes is imperative, because every ounce of weight in your backpack counts. I had on my fleece jacket, a short sleeved ‘quick dry’ shirt underneath, and compression shorts with hiking pants over those. I knew it was supposed to warm up into the 70’s.

After I had everything packed up, I headed down the trail with haste. It was about 7:30. I had no idea exactly where I was, except that I was on the trail, and headed toward Pruitt. There was supposed to be a campground down the trail, and I made plans to have my breakfast there.

About a mile down the way, I came to the Buffalo River bridge at Ponca, and a sign that said that Steele Creek Campground was about 1.8 miles down the way. This meant I had gone about 10 miles the day before, with several climbs of about 1700 feet. My legs felt very stiff, and I felt several blisters cropping up. I knew the next leg of my journey would be much tougher than the day before, and I was worried that my legs and feet did not feel as good as they did the day before. I had also forgotten to stretch, which I always do at home.

Shortly, I came upon an old Homestead. I’m very interested in how the pioneers lived, and their simple and self-sustaining way of living, so I wanted to make a quick trip through it. The homestead belonged to ‘Beaver’ Jim Villines and his wife, Sarah Arbaugh. They started living here in 1882. The placard said that Jim lived his whole life within a mile of where he was born. He died in 1948.

IMG_1622(The House)

IMG_1613(The Barn)

IMG_1617(The Root Cellar)

IMG_1621(The Smoke House)

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IMG_1619(One O’ them Fancy, City-fied, U.S. Government Outhouses)

There was also a crude hen house, and much more to the farm, but my trip through it was quick. I wanted to find a place where I had cell phone service to call Bud.

In a couple of miles, I came to Steele Creek Campground. All of the campgrounds along the trail are accessible by car. Though they are technically closed during the winter, there were still people camping there. It is permissible to camp there during the winter, but the water is turned off, meaning no flush toilets or water from the spigots. This is because of the possibility of the pipes freezing and bursting during winter. They do have vault toilets at the campgrounds.

It was amazing to me that there was really no easy access to the Buffalo River that I could see. I was concerned about my water supply, but the map showed there was a stream just beyond this campground.

IMG_1631I found a picnic table in the sun, took off my backpack, and ate some Paleo Granola with some dehydrated milk and a little water. This is dehydrated milk from a good source and from grass-fed cows. Dairy doesn’t bother me much. I experimented with dehydrated coconut milk, but it didn’t dissolve well. The recipe for Paleo Granola is a good one, and I hope to post the recipe soon.

I was concerned about my dwindling supply of water, and didn’t drink much in addition to what I used in my cereal to reconstitute my milk. I felt rejuvenated after eating, and ready to conquer the world.

I didn’t stay long. It was starting to warm up, so I took off my fleece jacket, put it in my pack, and headed back toward the trail. It was about 9:30 when I left.

Shortly down the trail, I came upon a creek, and I was able to filter water.

IMG_1632I made note of the fact that I need to get something to scoop water up to pour into my squeeze bottle. Sometimes, the water is not deep enough to submerge the water bottle. A friend suggested using a ziplock to scoop water, and pour into the bottle. Next time, I will try that. She also mentioned cutting down a water bottle to be used as a scoop. I also have the bag that came with the Sawyer Squeeze filter, but I really dislike that thing. It’s hard to fill up, also, because it only has a ‘bottle-sized’ opening at the top.

After I filtered my water, I was on my way. I passed many dry stream beds. When it rains in these hills, the water pours down the crevices quickly. Consequently, there are a lot of dry stream beds during the dry season. Many of the dry stream bed crossings look like this:

IMG_1594I had to cross that to get to the trail on the other side. Some of the dry stream beds were very wide, so it was amazing to think of what it must be like when they are actually flowing with water after a rain! It was one of the reasons I wanted to go on this hike before the rainy season. I didn’t want to contend with dangerous water crossings.

This leg of the journey would have several climbs of 1600 and 1800 feet, and most of it would be snaking along the edges and into the crotches of hills. I didn’t think there would be many water sources, according to the poorly marked map, so I was conserving my water as much as I could. The segment from Ponca to Kyle’s Landing was supposed to be 9.7 miles.

Some of the trail was a worn path.

IMG_1602The smoothness and levelness of the path in the above photo was NOT the norm. There were many places where I was left wondering where the trail actually was, because it was covered in leaves or grown over. Underneath the leaves, there were often grapefruit or honey dew melon sized rocks that made for unsure, slippery footing. Most places were just plain rocky.

There were some interesting rock formations along the trail.

IMG_1628I came upon this cave early in the morning before the first campground. This area is riddled with caves and sinkholes.

IMG_1611There were also some beautiful vistas.

IMG_1637IMG_1638My cell phone pics do not do these vistas justice.

Mostly, the trail was boring. I was not expecting that. I didn’t see any animals at all this day, save one friendly Blue Bird that followed me from branch to branch for a while. It reminded me of that scene in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” and it cheered me a little.

I was getting tired. My legs did not feel good and were very stiff and getting sore. My blisters were really starting to hurt, and one of them on the inside of my heel was shooting pain up my ankle. My feet felt bruised and were aching. My tongue was sticking to the inside of my mouth, and I had little flakes of dead skin on my lips. Even though I was drinking water every little while, I was trying to be judicious with my water intake since I wasn’t sure when I would be able to find  the next water source.

Then, I felt nature starting to call. My original plan was to try to make it Kyle’s Landing where I could use the vault toilet. This segment was 9.7 miles, and I was frustrated that it was taking so long. I’m used to making 3 miles/hour on our gravel road, even on the hills. On the trail, I was making about 2 mph, (when I was really trying to ‘book it’) and on the hard climbs, maybe 1 mph or less. When the trail leveled out, I would try to walk as fast as I could to make up the time, but my feet and legs were aching. I tried to tune it out.

I began to plot where I might answer nature’s call. I had seen NO ONE on the trail. There were no trees to hide behind because the woods looked like a skeleton with no leaves. I was also on the side of a mountain, so it was steep on either side. I was almost ready to ‘drop trau’ right there on the trail, but I had a nagging fear of someone coming down the trail. I hiked on.

I finally came upon a curve in the trail which went around some large boulders. I thought it might afford a little bit of privacy, and the trail was wider there. There was a place where some dirt had collected. Fortuitous! Most of the soil around here is a mix of mostly rocks with a little top soil.

I quickly dug my cat hole with my ‘Deuce of Spaces’ titanium trowel. I’m not sure it was 6-8 inches deep, but it was ‘close enough for jazz’, as they say, and time was of the essence. I was pleased that I actually hit the hole! I had just pulled up my pants, put up my toilet paper, put on my backpack, and was taking a swig of water, when lo and behold, a guy on a mule came around the corner! I nearly jumped out of my skin! I didn’t even hear them coming! If he had rounded the corner just a few minutes earlier…I don’t even want to think about it. That would have been one of the most embarrassing incidences of my life! …second only to walking across a restaurant in a dirndl with a strip of toilet paper stuck to my shoe!

Me and the guy on the mule made polite chitchat, but he was having a hard time holding the mule…he said it was ‘new’. I quickly asked him if I was on the wrong trail. There is a horse trail that crosses the BRT numerous times, but the horse trail also crosses the Buffalo River many times.  I didn’t want to contend with that. I became worried that I had somehow gotten onto the horse trail. He reassured me that ‘this was for both,’ but that didn’t sound right to me. I found out later, that sometimes, both trails conjoin for a while.

He went on, and I followed, but he was soon out of sight. My loneliness grew. I had been checking for cell service frequently and on every  high point I came upon. Finally, on the highest hill yet, I was able to get cell phone service and call Bud. It was about 12:30. He was very relieved, and I was very relieved. After a short conversation, we finally hung up, and I was sad. Bud was concerned about my cell phone battery, so he didn’t want to keep me on the phone too long. I was worried that I might not have cell phone service again.

Amazingly, a short while later, I met the guy on the mule again, and was able to confirm that he had made it to Kyle’s Landing and was on his way back. He told me I was making GREAT time, which really encouraged me. I confirmed with him, again, that I was on the correct trail. There were places on the trail where I spent about 3 minutes trying to figure out where the trail was. Bud later told me that he had sensed that I was having trouble finding the trail, and had prayed for me during those times!

 The guy on the mule told me that just up the way, I needed to take a right to get to Kyles Landing on the People Trail. It was there that the Horse Trail intersected with the People Trail, so I was very grateful that he alerted me to this. When I got there, I saw a post indicating that it was only about 2 more miles to Kyle’s Landing.

I was hobbling along at a decent clip and I finally came upon signs indicating that Kyle’s Landing was near. Every step had me in pain. Still, I pressed on. I had trouble finding the entry off the trail to the campground and had to pull out my map several times, and finally, double back to get there. My plan was to eat something for lunch at Kyle’s Landing. It was 2:00 by the time I got there. They say that hikers who are thu-hiking hate every ‘side mile’ they have to take off the main trail, and I was beginning to understand that.

I painfully made each step into the campground to a picnic table close to the river.  I left my backpack there, and went to go filter water. I had to go through a stand of cane, and down a very steep and sandy bank to filter water from the Buffalo River. My feet sank into the sand and got wet while I was filling my bottle. I sat at the picnic table for a few minutes and ate a few handfuls of trail mix. I was so dehydrated that I wasn’t very hungry. I knew I needed to eat something, so choked down that little bit of trail mix, and put some in my pocket for easy access later.

As I sat there, I debated whether or not to go on. My desire to be home was growing, and I just wanted to get on down the trail so that it would take less time to get home. I also contemplated what it would be like, stopping for the day at Kyle’s Landing at 2:00 and twiddling my thumbs for the rest of the day.

At 2:30, I made the decision to hike on. In retrospect, I believe this was my downfall. The hike out of Kyle’s Landing was tough. My feet and legs felt somewhat rejuvenated after my break, but after the first steep climb, they felt as bad as they did before my break. Even though I had refilled my water bottles, I still felt very dehydrated. My lips felt like they were peeling, and my mouth felt like it had sticky goo on the inside of it.

Shortly down the trail, I had my second face-plant of the day. I was going slightly down hill, and I tripped, falling on my knee, first. My backpack is about 30 pounds, and pretty heavy on my back. The momentum downhill, in addition to the weight is what propelled me into the face-plant. My forehead came down on rock that was mostly covered with leaves. This scared me…a lot…but I was okay. My forehead felt bruised, but I didn’t feel any blood. My knee also felt bruised, but I had no trouble walking on it. I had a very hard time getting back to my feet from a full face-plant because of the heavy pack. That, too, was scary.

Not one or two minutes later, I met a guy going the opposite direction. My immediate thought was to wonder if he had seen my face-plant from a distance. We made polite chit-chat, and I noticed he was looking strangely at me, and his eyes kept darting to a spot on my buff on the opposite side to where I’d hit my forehead. After we parted ways, I reached up to feel there and there were several dead leaves sticking to my buff.

I pulled out my map and saw that I had only gone about a mile and half. That was discouraging. I was tired, in pain, dehydrated, lonely and bored. A seed was planted in head ’round about that time, and began to germinate. I was not in a good place mentally, emotionally or physically. My mind began playing with an idea to hike to Erbie, and have Bud pick me up there, even if I had to hike in the dark to get there. I checked my phone. No service.

I wrestled with this thought of quitting my hike and going home, as I hiked on. I kept on telling myself that I would be a ‘quitter’ if I stopped now. If I couldn’t hack this measly little 37 mile trail, how could I manage a 2, 180 mile thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail?

I continued to hike, with more climbs. I was on auto-pilot…a walking, dehydrated, hobbled zombie. All I could think about was that I wanted to be HOME. I was so lonely. This really surprised me, too, because I’ve never been a lonely type of person, nor have I been prone to loneliness. In retrospect, I should have stayed the night at Kyle’s Landing, and I probably would have felt better the next morning on all fronts about continuing on.

This whole hike had felt like a race to me. I was always worried about pressing on and getting there fast. I couldn’t relax. I didn’t even take much time when I filtered water. I just wanted to make the miles.

Finally, I came to Camp Orr Road. I had gone about 2 1/2 miles from Kyle’s Landing. It felt like 5! I looked at the map and saw that I still had a really bad climb to get to Erbie.  There was no way I could muster the strength to do that. I thought about the possibility of finding another little camp site like the one I had found the night before. I checked my phone. No cell service. I stood there looking at the trail on the other side of the road. I couldn’t move beyond the road to the trail on the other side. I decided that I wanted to be home so badly that I would do whatever it took to get cell phone service and call Bud, in  spite of the looming, monstrous ascent up Camp Orr Road.

I started hobbling up the very steep incline on Camp Orr Road. I kept checking for a signal as I hiked about 6 inches with each step. I was prepared to hike to Highway 74, and hitchhike home if I had to do so. I started planning to camp in the woods on the side of the road if I could not get a signal at the top of the road.

Finally, I got a signal, and I called home. The answering machine picked up.  I left a message, anyway, telling Bud where I was and to COME GET ME! I WANT TO COME HOME! I began to worry that I would not be able to get in contact with Bud. A little way up the road, I tried calling again, and Bud picked up. He had been outside giving the chickens some scratch, and ran inside to pick it up when he heard it, thinking it might be me. We worked out the details of where he would pick me up, and he said he would leave in about 5 minutes to come get me. I asked him to bring me some water.

I continued hiking up the road to the fork. When I got there, I took my pack off and sat down on a rock. A guy in an old pickup truck stopped to ask if I was okay, and I thanked him for stopping, but told him I had someone on the way to pick me up.

He puttered on down the road, and shortly, I heard him backing up. He started asking about my hiking experience, and began to tell me about other ‘more interesting’ trails in the area. He said he’d lived in this area all his life, and was an experienced hiker. He said he had hiked the trail from Boxley and said he thought it was boring…that some of the other trails in this area were more interesting. I couldn’t have agreed with him more. When he found out I was training for the Appalachian Trail, he said it was a dream of his to do that trail someday. We said goodbye and he trucked on down the road.

Shortly after he left, I saw Bud’s car coming down the road. I have never been so glad to see a person in my life. I put my backpack in the back seat, and then threw my hiking stick into the back seat. Bud said he was surprised I didn’t throw the stick away. I looked at him with a shocked look, and said, “NO WAY!” After a while, you bond with these things on a hike. Everything you have with you is so important. That stick had saved me from so many falls, and helped me up so many hills, and down so many steep descents. It felt like an integral appendage! I tried to explain to Bud that I now knew how Tom Hanks’ character felt in, “Castaway,” when he lost ‘Wilson’.

 The whole ride home, I felt like a failure…a quitter. I pondered it all the next day, too. I wondered what my experience on the BRT meant, as far as my Appalachian Trail hike was concerned. I know the AT will be twice as hard, and twice as uncomfortable.

The thing is, that I’ve learned from my mistakes. I shouldn’t have pushed so hard, nor hiked so fast. A hike is not a race, and I am not a trail runner. On the AT, I will know exactly where the water sources are,  and where the shelters are, because I will have a very detailed guidebook with me. I also know that at almost every shelter, there will be people who I can commiserate with, and vent with…people who have just gone through exactly what I have gone through.

Though I know Bud doesn’t consider this hike to be a failure, he told me about a quote he saw that talked about every success being built on a series of failures. The key is to not give up.

So…I’m going to continue on to the Appalachian Tail. A friend asked me if I wanted to go back to the Buffalo River Trail to complete it. The first day after I got back, I did not. Now, on the second day back home, I’m seriously thinking about it.

I feel that I was brave to hike the trail alone. I wasn’t afraid to camp alone at night! I feel like I kept my whits about me, and made a good decision to come home. I was prepared physically, and felt comfortable with most of my gear, and I knew how to use it. I feel good about that. I think I just overdid it and pushed too hard.

Many people start the Appalachian Trail without trying their gear, and with no physical training beforehand. They get their ‘trail legs’ as they hike the trail. I think that though I will be in decent shape, I still need to do more strenuous and longer hikes before I go.

I also need to be more gentle on myself when I start off and not do so many miles in the beginning. Adding it up, I did 10 miles on my first day. On the second day, I did about 13.2 miles, not including the hike up Camp Orr Road.

I’m going to look into inserts for my shoes, and I’m also now considering getting a ‘spot’ device. I want to see how expensive it and the subscription service to it will be before I make a decision on that. I know that there will be far more people on the AT, so if I injure myself on the trail, someone will be along in time.

 I’m feeling better about things today, and I am still very much looking forward to my Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike. I’m thankful for lessons learned, and I’m especially glad that I will have a friend to start the Appalachian Trail with me.

The Blister On My Heel:

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The News from Lake Wobegone…

 

IMG_1656(Photo I took on my walk yesterday. Our neighbors have buffalo. It’s rare to see them by the fence. If you look at the base of the first hill in the distance, off to the left, you can see the gravel road I walk on each day.)

IMG_1654It is about a month until I fly to Atlanta Georgia. A friend and her husband will pick me up from the airport, and we will hike the first section of the trail to Neel’s Gap together.

I can’t believe how fast the time is flying by! I have been working on dehydrating my food and hope to do a post on it soon. I’m just trying to figure out the best way to do the post, and also, I’m working on getting some pictures.

I have been very nervous about organizing my mail drops. I’ve had some trouble deciding how many miles to put between each drop. My “M.O.” is to put things off until the last-minute because the task seems so monumental. Organizing mail drops involves a lot of math, too…not my strong suit. There is a lot of research of the guidebook that needs to be done to find hostels, post offices and places of business at which you can mail the drops. You have to anticipate when you might want to take a day off and where. You have to analyze the terrain to see how many miles you think you can do between stops. You have to look at how many miles off the trail the town you are going to mail your drops will be, etc.

I’ve decided to organize the drops for one State a day, and that seems less intimidating. This has been the single-most stressful preparation of my hike. I’m looking at about 3 different mail drop plans that other people have used, and that is helping tremendously.

DSC_0109Bud and I went by the Post Office the other day, and I talked to a very informative clerk. He gave me some advice, and I picked up samples of all of the boxes to see which boxes would work for me. For most things, ‘Weight Rated,’ rather than ‘Flat Rate,’ will be the least expensive route for me to go. For five days worth of food, it is about 4 1/2 pounds. Bud had to go into town the other day, and he picked up the Priority mails supplies (which are free) and the Postmaster threw in some tape and address labels! It feels good to have that part of it out of the way.

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After my Buffalo River Trail hike, and the pain I was feeling in my feet, I ordered Superfeet Green Insoles. I’ve hiked with them for about a week, now. I’m doing about 8 miles a day, and my feet still ache when I get home. It usually starts about 6 miles out.My feet are fine after I take my shoes off and rest a bit. Stretching helps, too, and then the pain is gone after a while, and I’m good to go. Sometimes, stopping and just stretching my legs and feet helps, so I’m thinking this must be some kind of muscular problem. I do stretch beforehand, and I’ve been trying to do more stretching before I hike each day. I also have a voracious stride when I hike. I’ve been trying to tone that down and slow down a bit on my daily hikes to see if that helps.

129826161569759368096I have ordered a rain skirt. I tried rain pants early on, and sent them back. They were, as many people said, very sweaty. For me, they felt claustrophobic. I ordered the skirt from Etowah Outfitters. I haven’t yet received it.

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I also ordered a Therm-A-Rest Neo Air, which should be here on Thursday. I have not had one single good night’s sleep on my Therm-A-Rest Pro Light Plus. I can’t get comfortable on it. (No, I will not be returning it since I accidentally peed on it.) Not only will it be lighter than what I have, it also rolls up more compactly than the Pro Light Plus. I’m pinning my hopes on this new sleeping pad.

After my experience on the Buffalo River Trail alone, and not having cell service, I really did a lot of thinking about GPS devices. After talking with Bud, I decided to order a Delorme “In Reach” device. I’m hoping to do a post on it after I try it out.

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When I purchased it, it was $75.00 off at Amazon. I see that the price has since gone up. I received it yesterday, and will try to get the subscription up and running today, so I can test it out before I go. I feel much better knowing I will have this along, and I think it has alleviated some of the worries of my friends and family. I know most people who know nothing of the trail are visualizing me there all alone in the middle of the woods, but I assure you, the trail is quite crowded at times.I feel better, though, for the peace of mind the device will offer to not only myself, but friends and family who are concerned.

I’ve bumped my miles per day up to 8 miles, and I’ve been walking the opposite direction, which is a better work out with steeper hills. Starting today, I’m going to put 5 pounds of beans in my backpack to simulate food weight.

That’s all of the news from Lake Wobegone. 🙂 More news as it happens..

Happy Hiking,

Arkansas Traveler

Therm-a-Rest Pro Lite Plus Vs. Women’s Therm-a-Rest Neo Air Sleeping Pad

I wanted to do a quick review (so far), mainly to show the size and weight differences between the Therm-a-Rest Pro Lite Plus and the Women’s Therm-a-Rest Neo Air.

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I have not been happy with the Pro Lite Plus. My main issues with it, are that it’s bulky in my pack, and it’s heavy. It has never ‘self-inflated’ when I’ve used it. It was supposed to be comfortable, but I’ve never had a decent night’s rest on it. For the ‘Regular’ size, it weighs 1 pound, 4 ounces.

881598I’ve only slept on the Neo Air one time. It was not like sleeping on my bed at home (obviously) and I can’t say I had a great night’s sleep, either…but it was much better for me than the Pro Lite Plus. I did not have trouble blowing it up, though it wasn’t as easy blowing it up as the Pro Lite Plus (which I shouldn’t have had to blow up, anyway!) I think they said it should take 15 breaths, and I took probably 25 to blow it up completely. The women’s version supposedly has a second layer of ‘heat reflecting technology’ to help ladies stay warmer at night. The Neo Air weighs in at 12 ounces and packs up small, so it leaves a lot of room in my pack!

DSC_0011DSC_0016Even if the difference in comfort level was negligible, the savings in weight and space, alone, would make me choose the Neo Air.

At this point, I’m hoping that hiking all day will leave me tired enough, and sufficiently knock me out so that I won’t care where I sleep at the end of the day!